Conrad Schumann; Soldier Photographed Fleeing to West Berlin

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Conrad Schumann, the East German soldier who became a symbol of freedom when he was photographed Aug. 15, 1961, leaping over the tangle of barbed wire that was to become the Berlin Wall, has died. He was 56.

Schumann's body was found Saturday morning hanging from the limb of a tree in the garden of his house in Kipfenberg in southern Germany. He was believed to have committed suicide.

Police said they found no note, and the motive was unclear, although he had been having family problems. He had been working at an Audi car plant in nearby Ingolstadt.

When Schumann leaped away from communist oppression two days after East German leaders ordered construction of the Berlin Wall, photographer Peter Leibing of Contipress in Hamburg happened to be there. The photo was distributed by Associated Press, appeared on front pages around the world and won numerous journalism prizes.

The famous photograph captured the then 19-year-old soldier, his head bowed, just as he cleared the coil of barbed wire that served as a temporary barrier before the concrete wall replaced it. He was in his uniform that included helmet and knee-high jackboots with his rifle slung over his shoulder.

Today, posters of the image are a best-selling item at the Berlin Wall museum at the former Checkpoint Charlie border crossing. Schumann visited the museum last month to autograph posters.

Two years after his escape, married and with an infant son, Schumann had a job at a bottling plant in West Germany and told an AP reporter: "Sometimes I feel I'm still dreaming. After the dreary life in East Germany, this all seems so unrealistic, like fairyland."

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